Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Way of Triumph, Mark 11:1-11 (All quotes from the ESV)
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a few days before he would be taken, beaten and crucified. Several things happened on the way to this triumphal parade. I think they are important and should be included in our understanding of this special day. We will look at the events immediately leading up to this momentous procession. Then we will think about the immediate after affects. Friday night we will think about the cross and, next Sunday, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the way with Jesus.
As Jesus was setting out on His journey to Jerusalem a man who asked about eternal life immediately confronted him. (Mark 10:17-31) Jesus asked him a question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Perhaps Jesus was trying to goad the man into making the confession, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” We can’t know for sure but the man surely knew that certain words should be used of God alone. Then immediately Jesus quoted some of the commandments. All of them were man to man commandments. Paul used a similar list when he taught us that the greatest commandment is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8-19) In neither list did the teacher quote the man to God commandments – not even the Sabbath commandment! It could be said that these two list are the “easy” commands while the first four of the ten commandments are impossible to keep without God himself working a work of grace in the heart.

When the man responded, “I have kept these from my youth,” the Bible says that Jesus “loved him.” I know, Jesus loves everyone, but Jesus LOVED this man and, I am convinced, there is a difference in these to ideas. This was a special love for one who was working hard at pleasing God. So Jesus tested his level of commitment by saying, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” The man went away disheartened because he had many possessions. Or rather many possessions had him.

Jesus then stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Now lots of commentators, teachers and preachers have tried to take away the impossibility of what Jesus had said. Remember, the way in is to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” and if he is Lord then our possessions become his and if our possessions are not his then he is not Lord. Jesus is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.

The disciples’ response of “Then who can be saved?” shows that they understood that even though they might have physically left all to follow him theirs hearts were still selfish and greedy. Praise God, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Jesus assured them that God knew and would reward – along with persecutions – and give eternal life.

Then Jesus went on to tell them that cross was waiting. (Mark 10:32-34) At least three times he had told them he would be taken, beaten, crucified and raised from the dead. He had been very clear on this subject. One has to question where the disciples’ heads were at when they heard these things because of the next exchange.

James and John, two of his closest men, wanted a promotion. (Mark 10:33-45) Remember that a short time before they, along with Peter, had been there on the mountain when Jesus met with Moses and Elijah. The same trio had been the only ones taken into the room when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. These were special men – key disciples. Now he had just told them and the others that he was going to his death – a very violent death. Instead of being dismayed and grief stricken they want assurances that they will be able to be his number one and two commanders in the coming kingdom. How could they? Had they not heard? Did they care? We may find out in heaven but we will never know for sure.

Jesus did not reject them – he challenged them with a question. “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” Again, what were they thinking when they replied, “We are able”? Jesus assured them that hey would and then told them not to be like the world, demanding to be served, instead to follow his example that they would have so strongly demonstrated in a few days when he washed their feet an the table.

The journey continued and at Jericho Jesus met the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar and immediately restored his sight. (Mark 10:46-52) The denseness of his disciples did not stop – and does not today – the ministry of Jesus.

A borrowed donkey.
Entering the city on a borrowed donkey characterized Jesus’ ministry. (Matthew 8:18-20) Jesus had lived his life of ministry with few, if any, personal possessions. He had nowhere to lay his head. The guards had to cast lots for the robe that had been put on him when he was crucified. He had described himself as humble. (Matthew 11:28-30) Paul reminds us that he made himself nothing. (Philippians 2:5-8) He did that for us: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He had an honor guard of the common people.
Jesus’ followers were mostly common. (John 7:48-49) As Paul would later write: “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26b-31)

A few were wealthy but not many. (Nicodemus – Joseph of Arimathea)

The presence of all these uneducated commoners offended the religious leaders. (Luke 19:37-40) Jesus responded to them with, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” We need to be careful whom we reject. We also need to be careful whom we listen to. As John wrote in his first little letter: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” (1 John 4:1-2)

Jesus faced many difficulties on his way to the cross. The people had no way to understand. His disciples should have but just didn’t get it. They, like the crowds, were trying to divide the kingdom among themselves. Jesus faithfully moved on and ministered as he traveled. In the same way we need to keep on with our faith and minister as we have opportunity. We are to bear our own cross day-by-day. Not a burden but a cross of death to the world and life crucified with Christ.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I had an exciting night last night.(Mar 25-26) About 7 PM I started feeling dizzy - a little - after moving around some about 7:15-30 I found myself very dizzy. I told Cherlyn, "Just in case something happens, I feel really dizzy". Then very ungraciously I fell into my recliner. Cherlyn came over to look closely at me - didn't like my answers and called the ambulance. The next thing I knew my favorite EMT - PR2B was asking questions taking vitals and making things happen. By 8 PM we were on the way to Fox Hospital in Oneonta. ER and evaluation - Dr proposed I had had a TIA. I was in no condition to argue. When the EKG was set up and recorded I heard the technician say, "What a beautiful rhythm." Words I really wanted to hear.
I was admitted for observation which means they won't let you sleep and if you do they wrap something around your arm and squeeze it. Actually I got a few good naps in while they were not looking. This morning, after lots of waiting around for one thing or another I was released into Cherlyn's custody and got home about noon.
Have a follow up appointment with Dr. Sue at Riverside Clinic here in Stamford next Tuesday and a radiology appointment for a doppler test on my carotid arteries.
Now for about 20 lbs of me going away. Pray for me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Overcoming Weakness and Fear

Joshua 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua, the son of Nun, was Israel’s first military commander. He had been faithful through the years of wandering in the wilderness. He had led the first army of Israel against Amalek. Once he and Caleb presented the minority report when ten others had said, “It can’t be done.” Joshua and Caleb said, “. . . the Lord is with us, do not fear. . .” He had been with Moses on the mountain of God when the Ten Commandments were handed down. He was Moses’ right hand man from the earliest struggles until the death of Moses. Now Joshua no longer had Moses to look to. He now represented the “older generation.” Now he faced perceived weakness and real fear. What to do? God is very specific.

He had the promises of God.

God had given them the land. (Deuteronomy 11:24) It had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. We are reminded by Samuel that God will not lie. The promises of God are true. He always keeps his word. Even if we are unfaithful he remains faithful. Praise his holy name!

He promised victory as Joshua had understood when he and Caleb had been part of the spy group who entered the land. (Numbers 14:6-9) Joshua and Caleb had seen what the others could not. The protection of the people of Canaan had been removed. The living God will always bring about his victory for his people. It is still true today. Don’t accept defeat instead seek the Lord – his will and his way.

God promised Joshua his presence. I remember a time in my own life when two bullies had taken my motorcycle (1950 Harley) without permission. I called my Dad and he said, “Stay right there”. In just a few minutes he was there. He asked where these guys’ car was. I pointed it out. He went to it raised the hood – did something — and closed the hood again. Then we sat on the bench and waited. In time they returned from their joyride. My Dad asked them, “Did you have permission to take the motorcycle?” They honestly said, “No”. Then my Dad pointed at me and said, “Give him five bucks.” Slowly and with a shocked look on his face one of the two reached in his pocket and handed by the money. Dad then handed him the rotor out of his distributor. It was good to have the presence of my Dad at that event. It is good to know we have a heavenly Father who also cares for us.

God’s word was with them.

It had given to Moses in the wilderness. There was no government handbook or military tactics manual like we might rely on today. There was only the word of God. Well, folks, that is sufficient.

Joshua was to bury it in his heart. Psalm 1:1-2 tells us: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Joshua was to meditate on the “book of the law”. This would build his trust in the covenant keeping God that we serve. As the little boy is reputed to have said, “The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I need.” It is enough to be faithful to God’s word – he will do the rest!

Joshua was not just read and meditate on the word he was to do the word. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” In order for God’s word to be effective in our lives we must do what he said!

God gives success.

God always has plans for his people and those plans are good. In Jeremiah 29:11 God told exiled Israel: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This not just for past believers it applies to us as well. All the promises of God find their “YES” in Jesus. What he wills for us he will do.

We are to trust God not our human strength. The Bible makes this very clear. Proverbs 3:5-8 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” When Gerald Ford was sworn in as President of the United States he had the Bible open to these verses. It was reported that later he said he could only get through the hard early days of his time in office by coming often to these verses and reminding himself that he must rely on God – not his own understanding. It worked for Joshua as he faced weakness and fear. It worked for our president and it will work for us.

We must always remember that victory belongs to God. Paul wrote to the Romans these encouraging words: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

Every honest believer will admit there are times when we face weakness and fear. We are like Moses by the Red Sea just before he stretched out the Rod of God and parted the sea. When God asked the question, “Why do you cry to me? DO IT!” God said apparently because Moses did not know what to do. He did however know that God knew what to and would do it. We must live by promises of God – then and only then will we defeat weakness and fear.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ephesians 3:14-21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

I forget that my strength is from the Lord and not from myself. Paul's prayer in Ephesians reminds me that I am not only to pray this prayer (or one like it) for others but also to pray this prayer for myself. I also should invite others to pray this prayer for me. I need spiritual strength. I need strength to understand to greatness of God's love. I need to be filled with the fullness of God.

I, and others, are facing decisions about an upcoming trip to Peru. We need God's will and way with regard to this important ministry. Because of spiritual static it has been hard to hear exactly what God is saying. Sometimes I am shouting (internally) to loudly to hear God.

Pray for me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

God's Architecture

God’s Architecture
1 Corinthians 3:9-17 “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Has anyone ever told you that you are worthless? If not, you have been specially blessed, or protected, by God. The world around influences the way we think of ourselves. God alone should influence our thinking and the only real source of information on that subject is the Bible. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Have you ever thought about your life as a building constructed of various materials, some good and priceless, some bad and worthless? Have you considered that there have been many builders working on your life building? The truth is most are just subcontractors working for the two primary firms. Let’s call them “The Thief’s Trash Team” and “Christ’s Master Builders”. I am not saying we should live in doubt as to our eternal salvation. That is not what this is about. I am thinking about our position and our condition. After a person is born again and has become a believer he, or she, has a secure position. Jesus said: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)

That’s the position of the saved person. However, our condition is another matter. Our condition is where we are at the present time. Christians can be deceived. We have an enemy who works hard at deception. Christians can be willful and rebellious. We should avoid sin at all costs but we sometimes forget that. So, our position and condition should be carefully aligned but often are out of sync.

Let’s be careful how we build on the one foundation. Specifically, we must be careful WHO we let build in our lives. Over the past few years Cherlyn, my wife, and I have erected an addition to our house. It was with pride that I did most of the labor. There were things I could not do. I needed help lifting the walls and setting the trusses. I needed someone else to show me how to do the electrical wiring. The results are far from perfect but do represent our energy and effort. I was careful whom I asked to help. Even with that there is one spot that I turned my back on someone I trusted and the result was not what I wanted. I can live with it. I also have to live with imperfections I allowed into my life building. Some God has graciously removed but many remain to remind me of my weakness and God’s strength.

When we were without salvation – in our natural condition – we lived in the domain of darkness and as such were constantly letting the Thief’s Trash Team have access to our life building. The Thief was sending his subcontractors onto the job as Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
We often hear someone say, “God has a plan for your life.” He does for sure but we seem to forget that Satan also has a plan for our lives. The apostle Peter put it this way: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

How do we deal with that? We must resist the Thief. James tells us that it is a two-step procedure: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If we try to resist the devil in our strength he will laugh and we will fail. Only after we have submitted ourselves to God can we hope for victory. When we are weak he is strong and is committed to our defense. When we come into the family of God we change building contractors.

We are now using Christ’s Master Builders. The tools change: “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

“Apostles and prophets” do not refer to some office in the church today. Such offices may be part of God’s structure but that is not what scripture refers to. “Apostles and prophets” refers to the Bible. Old and New Testament both become the tools God uses in our lives and the devil works to keep us away from. There is an old saying I remember from my early years. “The Bible – It will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible.” Just set a time aside every day to read the word and ask God to make it part of your life and plan to allow it to shape your life building. Then see what happens. Everything will get in the way. You will need to be somewhere else. You will be reminded of another matter that needs attention. The devil will be allowed to attack that commitment so we can learn to train our will to obey our Lord.

The foundation corner, or keystone, of the believer’s life building is Jesus Christ. That is not some decorative and informative fa├žade on the corner of the building it is the keystone that is cut into the underlying rock that allows the building to hold together when the storms of life come our way – and they will come! Jesus said: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) That house will stand! The foundation is solid it cannot be moved.

The result of using the right contractor and the best subcontractors is a temple of God. “Living stones built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4-8) is the way Peter put it. Believers become God’s Temple on earth. Jesus spoke of two or three gathered in his name. He said he would be with them. That is a special “with them”. He never leaves those who trust in him. So when we are alone he is there but there is a difference when other believers are with us. The devil will try to keep us from fellowship just as he tries to keep us from the Bible.

So we must be careful who we let subcontract on our job. We need to build to a stringent building code. In fact it is God’s fire code we need to conform to. The world, the flesh and the devil build into our lives with wood, hay and straw. These are materials made to burn. When confronted with the judgment of God’s fire it will burn.

Peter was more specific: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) That sounds a lot like much of modern “entertainment” on TV, movies and the Internet. We let that material into our life building and at the judgment it will burn and we will feel it.

We need to build fireproof material into our lives. As Peter continued his teaching he wrote: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23) That is the person God can make us into if we will just submit ourselves to him and resist the devil and all his subcontractors.

I am not talking about “works salvation” the Bible is clear about that. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We, however, are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works. (Ephesians 2:10) That is God’s plan for our lives and when we choose the wrong subcontractor we weaken our work and witness and when we choose the right subcontractor we strengthen – not just our own lives – the lives of an unknown number of others who are affected by our lives. You who are saved are God’s Temple – LIVE LIKE IT! It’s worth it – day by day – as well as in the Day of Judgment.

(All quotes are from the The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001, Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)